They came with notepads, folders and pamphlets, and many of the more than 100 people who attended the Council on Aging of Buncombe County's first information session about the Affordable Care Act came with questions on Oct. 17.
“There's all sorts of wild, wild rumors out there,” said John Wingerter, director of Health Insurance Information Services for the local agency. “People are afraid they're going to be thrown in jail, that they're going to lose their homes — you would not believe the amount of misinformation out there.”
However, Wingerter said the greatest amount of confusion about the federal law, also known as Obamacare, stems from the portion of the act known as the individual responsibility. This provision requires that every U.S. resident have health insurance in 2014, and those without insurance will be required to pay a fee of either 1 percent of their yearly income or $95, whichever is greater.
For more than an hour, Wingerter clicked through a slideshow at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville, explaining the basics of the Affordable Care Act: Health insurers cannot deny someone coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The law established a health-care marketplace, where people can sign up for insurance. The marketplace opened for enrollment Oct. 1, and people will have until March 31, 2014, to sign up for insurance in the marketplace.
But Wingerter said the questions haven't stopped there and he anticipates that more questions about the law will likely continue to come to the Council on Aging. Since late September, the agency has been providing health-care navigators to help people who are interested in signing up for insurance through the marketplace — a more challenging task after website glitches occurred with the launch of healthcare.gov, the virtual location where people can shop for and compare different types of coverage plans.
“The calls I've been receiving lately have been from people who have gotten to various stages in the [online] application process and want to know when they're going to receive notification of their subsidy,” he said.
Many of those questions, Wingerter noted, have come from folks who are being told that Medicaid and Medicare do not qualify as health insurance under the law. It does, along with other public plans like the Children's Health Insurance Program, various health-insurance plans provided by Veterans Affairs and TRICARE for active-duty or retired military-service members.
“I've had several calls from people who are on Medicare, and I had to reassure them that they're covered and they don't have to do anything,” he said. “But the majority of people will be covered under an employer plan.”
Currently in North Carolina, two insurance companies are offering plans through the marketplace: Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina and Coventry Health Care. However, not all of the 26 products Blue Cross and Blue Shield are providing and the 25 Coventry Health Care are offering through the marketplace may be available in all 100 counties.
With these differences in mind, Wingerter said it's important for people to shop around for plans on healthcare.gov, contact the state's call center at (855) 733-3711 to set up an appointment with a health-care navigator and attend information sessions being sponsored throughout the county in the coming months.
For the month of November, the Council on Aging of Buncombe County will present informational programs on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) at several libraries in the month of November. The sessions will provide an overview of the Affordable Care Act, the federally funded marketplace in North Carolina and review the information needed to apply for coverage and a subsidy. There will be a question and answer session after the presentation.
The dates and times for the sessions are:
Saturday, Nov. 2 – Pack Memorial Library from 2-4pm
Wednesday, Nov. 6 – Skyland/South Buncombe Library from 2-4pm
Tuesday, Nov. 12 – Black Mountain Library from 2-4pm
Wednesday, Nov. 13 – West Asheville Library from 2-4pm
Thursday, Nov. 14 – Weaverville Library from 2-4pm
Friday, Nov. 15 – North Asheville Library from 2-4pm
Monday, Nov. 18 – Fairview Library from 2-4pm
Thursday, Nov. 21 – Leicester Library from 2-4pm
For more information, call the Council on Aging at 277-8288.
— Send your health-and-wellness news and tips to Caitlin Byrd at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 251-1333, ext. 140.